Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Metaphysics I

This is the first part of an introduction to some of the metaphysical themes that you may find useful for reading St. Thomas. For more information on these topics, have a look at some of the books suggested here.

Metaphysics

Saturday, 13 March 2010

More Books on Aquinas

If you’ve read some (or all!) of the introductory books on Aquinas, then you’ll probably already have some ideas about what you want to look at next. At this point the literature on Aquinas explodes with possibilities! You should feel free to set off in whichever direction you feel like, but I thought I’d make a few suggestions based on the directions I’ve wandered around in the past few years.

The following are excellent books, at an intermediate level, surveying Aquinas’s work. The first is theologically inclined, the second focuses more on the philosophical aspects of Aquinas.

Rik van Nieuwenhowe, Joseph Wawrykow (eds.), “The Theology of Thomas Aquinas”, University of Notre Dame Press.
Norman Kretzmann, Eleanore Stump, “The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas”, Cambridge University Press.


The following is now regarded as the “standard” biography of Aquinas. The second volume focuses on the spirituality of St Thomas; I think this latter a very important volume as it’s easy to lose sight of the spiritual when the common doctor leaves us gasping for breath with the power of his rationality. The problem is this: if you have lost sight of St. Thomas’s spirituality, you may very well have lost the plot entirely!

Jean-Pierre Torrell, “Saint Thomas Aquinas” (Volume 1, “The Person & His Work”, Volume 2, “Spiritual Master”), Catholic University of America Press.


The next suggestion may be easier to handle if you have some background knowledge of the Anglo-America tradition of analytic philosophy. A superb but lengthy book.

Eleanore Stump, “Aquinas”, Routledge.


These next two are companion volumes of collected essays. In general the quality of the essays is very good (some are quite advanced). The first looks at Aquinas’s work from the point of view of Christian doctrine, the second focuses on his scriptural commentaries (of which there are many).

Thomas Weinandy, Daniel Keating, John Yocum (eds.), “Aquinas on Doctrine”, T&T Clark.
Thomas Weinandy, Daniel Keating, John Yocum (eds.), “Aquinas on Scripture”, T&T Clark.


Questions 27-43 of the first part of the summa are devoted to God as Trinity. For a detailed consideration of these questions in the context of Aquinas’s teaching on the Trinity outside of the summa, and in the context of the teaching of other medieval theologians, perhaps the best easily available treatment is

Gilles Emery, “The Trinitarian Theology of St Thomas Aquinas”, Oxford University Press.


The second part of the summa concerns moral theology. When we eventually get to it you may wish to have a look at the following collection of essays which, between them, provide a thorough commentary on the second part. In general the essays are of very good quality with only a couple which disappoint.

Stephen Pope, “The Ethics of Aquinas”, Georgetown University Press.


The next one is a classic. I’ve never found McInerny’s books easy to read, but they’re worth the effort. This one is a brief summary of Aquinas’s ethical thought.

Ralph McInerny, “Ethica Thomistica”, Catholic University of America Press.


If you want a look at St. Thomas’s thought within the context of Catholic moral teaching then Cessario’s two books are an excellent introduction.

Romanus Cessario, “Introduction to Moral Theology”, Catholic University of America Press.
Romanus Cessario, “The Moral Virtues and Theological Ethics”, Notre Dame University Press.


Servais Pinckaers has been an important figure in the resurgence of Catholic Moral thought (especially after the encyclical “Veritatis Splendor”). He also played a key role in the writing of part 3 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What is attractive about his writing is the close synthesis of Thomistic moral thought with scriptural teaching. The first book is a summary and introduction to the much more substantial second.

Servais Pinckaers, “Morality: The Catholic View”, St. Augustine’s Press.
Servais Pinckaers, “The Sources of Christian Ethics”, Catholic University of America Press.


Anything Fergus Kerr writes is worth reading. This is one of my favourites.

Fergus Kerr, “After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism”, Blackwell.


Thomistic thought didn’t stop with St Thomas. Being such an attractive system, commentators and theologians developed the ideas further throughout the centuries. Cessario’s book is very short introduction to that story. It’s a straightforward read and very interesting but really makes one wish that someone would write “A Long History of Thomism”!

Romanus Cessario, “A Short History of Thomism”, Catholic University of America Press.


St Thomas wrote much more than just the summa (which you can see if you follow the links in the sidebar) and there’s still a fair amount of his oeuvre not yet translated into English. If you want a flavour of his other work, a collection of excerpts is the place to start. There are many editions of selections from his writing, but the following are good, cheap and easy to obtain.

Ralph McInerny, “Thomas Aquinas; Selected Writings”, Penguin.
Timothy McDermott, “Thomas Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings”, Oxford University Press.

Books on Metaphysics

To understand St. Thomas better, it helps to have some background knowledge of the metaphysical structure of thought he inherited and developed. As a starter, I suggest:

Edward Feser, The Last Superstition, St. Augustine’s Press.

I’ve mentioned this book before as a robust refutation of the so-called “New Atheism”. It’s also a very good introduction to the whole stream of Aristo-Thomist thought through the centuries.


Once past this introduction, this forthcoming book from Feser is likely to become the primary recommendation.

Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics, Editiones Scholasticae. (ISBN 978-3-86838-544-1).

The following three books give excellent presentations of the range of Aristotle’s philosophy.

Christopher Shields, Aristotle, Routledge.
Jonathan Lear, Aristotle, the Desire to Understand,  Cambridge University Press.
Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, Cambridge University Press.

Although neglected in modern times, Aristotle’s thought is not dead! If you want to see a thoroughly modern presentation of where Aristotelianism is today, try the following:

David Oderberg, Real Essentialism, Routledge.

It's well worth looking out some of the older treatments of Aquinas's philosophical system. Some have to be found second hand or on Google Books, but an increasing number of re-prints are becoming available.  Examples of this type of literature are:

A.D. Sertillanges, Foundations of Thomistic Philosophy, in the Catholic Library of Religious Knowledge series published by Sands & Co./Herder Co.
R.P. Phillips, Modern Thomistic Philosophy, Vol 1. The Philosophy of Nature and Vol. 2 Metaphysics, Burns, Oates & Washbourne ltd.
Henri Renard, The Philosophy of Being, Kessinger.

More general than these, the first is a gentle introduction, the second a compact sophisticated survey of everything, very useful as a reference.

Daniel J. Sullivan, An Introduction to Philosophy, Tan Books.
William A. Wallace, The Elements of Philosophy, St. Pauls.

The so-called “Neo-Scholastic” movement of the late nineteenth into the middle of the twentieth century faded into obscurity after the second Vatican Council as the flights of fashion favoured other approaches to the metaphysical foundations of theology. As the weaknesses of such foundational approaches have been more clearly understood, the “classical” Aristo-Thomism of the neo-scholastic movement is regaining the attention it deserves. One figure in particular seems to be gaining favour: Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Here are two books of his: the first is a thorough-going summary of neo-scholastic Aristo-Thomistic metaphysics (and more); the second an extended exposition of natural theology (so making up a commentary on the first few questions of the summa). These are not easy going!

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, Ex Fontibus.
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, God: His Existence and His Nature (2 volumes), Ex Fontibus.

I haven’t covered Plato or neo-Platonism or the stream of thought that comes from Augustine in this post. That will have to follow!